~ My Traditional Gazpacho: Fresh from Our Garden ~
"I could have had a V-8." If you've ever leisurely sipped on a chilled glass of traditional gazpacho you wouldn't say that, even in jest. It is the ultimate vegetable smoothie. Here in my Happy Valley kitchen, me making gazpacho is a sure sign that Fall is around the corner. Our vegetable garden is producing almost more stuff than I can use efficiently. Gazpacho is a bright, refreshing, cool way for me to put a bounty of produce to a delicious use. Gazpacho is quite easy to make, but if you're under the impression it's as simple as throwing some veggies and seasonings in a blender, you'd be wrong. A really well-balanced appropriately-seasoned gazpacho recipe, with no single ingredient taking center stage, is: a work of slurpable art.
Gazpacho has been a staple in the Spanish kitchen for centuries and originated in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia shortly after the tomato was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula. It was, however, made using a combination of ancient Spanish, Portuguese, Roman, Moorish and Arabic techniques. While it is eaten all year long, it's particularly enjoyed when the temperatures soar in the Summer. It is traditionally served in a small glass or an earthenware cup as a refreshing but filling savory beverage, or, ladled into a bowl and garnished with an array of diced vegetables and served as a light meal or a light ending to a large meal.
Traditional old-world gazpacho is a cold, raw soup prepared by pounding vegetables in a mortar with a pestle. Nowadays, it's mostly prepared in a blender or a food processor, which gives it its smooth, airy consistency. It all starts with a paste made from firm-textured bread that has been soaked in water, pulverized garlic, sea salt and fruity olive oil -- the paste is the thickener for the soup. In it's most basic form, tomatoes and an acid are the base to which other vegetables, herbs, spices and EVOO get added. Once pulverized and sieved to reveal a smooth vegetable concoction, the garlic-y bread paste gets stirred in. How thick or thin the gazpacho becomes is sometimes controlled by adding chilled water. Its thickness varies regionally and from cook to cook, depending upon how it is being served. Anything from drinkable to dip-able is accepted and allowed.
Vegetables + Garlic + Salt + Acid + Olive Oil + Bread = Basic Gazpacho
Gazpacho has come a long way baby. It's popular in homes and restaurants all over the world, and, as long as it's made with fresh, local ingredients, it's ok to add almost anything to it (in terms of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices), as long as they play well together -- it's not pot luck. While the ripe red tomato-vegetable-based gazpacho is by far the most well-known and popular, there are also white and green versions (which contain creative mixtures of other fruits and vegetables) and versions that are garnished with cured and shredded artisanal ham.
Mel's thoughts on peeling & seeding the tomatoes for Gazpacho.
Many modern-day food-processor versions skip this step -- I've done it myself on occasion and I have no ax to grind with that as the gazpacho still tastes really, really good. That said, since this post is about making a traditional semblance of gazpacho, I am getting this not-fun task done up front and in less than 5 minutes, via the aid of my favorite, time-saving secret weapon.
Thanks to a "spoofy" little kitchen gadget, the Velox Tomato Press & Strainer, the task of peeling, seeding, crushing and/or sieving any type of tomatoes for any purpose has been eliminated for me. I bought mine from William-Sonoma before Amazon even existed. This sturdy, easy-to-clean machine costs around $50.00, and, if you are a tomato-lover, it is worth every cent. Here's how it works:
There's a suction cup that holds the press firmly to the work surface. You fill the upper bin with chunked tomatoes and turn the crank, like you would a food mill or food grinder. Into the square, white plastic tray (which comes with the machine) flows a river of perfectly crushed tomatoes, free of skins and seeds, which exit out the side of machine into any type of container. Men love this machine. Joe uses it outside, on a table on our patio, which means I have zero mess!
Start with 6 cups of cored and coarsely chopped tomatoes. I recommend using your favorite "eating tomatoes". The kind you pick off the vine and slice for a sandwich. After all, this is a raw (uncooked), rather unembellished "out of the garden" soup. Everything that goes into it should be perfectly-ripe and at its prime. I'm using Better Boy tomatoes today. That said sweet grape tomatoes work great too.
After running the chopped tomatoes through the press, I've got 4 cups of very-soupy crushed tomatoes, free from skins and seeds. Note the container of skins and seeds the machine impressively extruded out the side.
Once the tomatoes are prepped, it's time to make gazpacho!
1, 12-ounce French batard or baguette, sliced into 1" slices, crusts removed to reveal 6-ounces of crustless bread slices
1/2 cup water for soaking bread
1 teaspoon sea salt
4-6 large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press
2 tablespoons olive oil
~ Step 1. Place bread in an 8" x 8" casserole and add the water. Allow to soak for 1 minute, then flip it over. Let it sit for 1 more minute to allow the water on top to soak back down to the bottom. Squeeze out the excess moisture and place squished bread in a medium bowl.
~Step 2. Season the bread with the salt. Run the garlic cloves through a garlic press, adding them to the bowl as you work. I added all six cloves today. Drizzle in the olive oil and use a fork to smash the mixture into a pasty, lumpy sort-of mass. It's dang tasty though. Set aside.
6 cups chopped tomatoes, peeled and run through a tomato press or a food mill to remove skins and seeds, use your favorite "eating tomatoes"
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber
1 1/2 cups chopped green and/or red bell pepper, all white ribs and seeds removed
1 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped chives, fresh parsley or cilantro
all of the bread paste, prepared as directed above
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
~Step 1. Place cucumbers, bell peppers, red onion and chives in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Using a series of 25-30 on-off pulses, finely-mince the vegetables together. Add all of the bread paste. Turn the motor on and process for about 30 seconds. Using a large rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then add the sherry vinegar, cumin, sea salt and sugar to the processor. Place the lid on, turn the motor on and process again for another 30 seconds.
Traditionally, when gazpacho is served in a bowl, a few diced add-ins are placed on the table. They are the same vegetables used to make the gazpacho (tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and onion). That said, knowing I'm getting a full dose of vegetables in my soup, I like to add some croutons for much-needed crunch. You can find my recipe for ~How to: Make Croutons (& Toasts) ~ by clicking into Categories 2, 5, 9, 15 or 20!
Please pass Mel's Garlic & Cracked Black Pepper Croutons:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; tomato press; serrated bread knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; 1-cup measuring container; garlic press; vegetable peeler; large-capacity food processor; large rubber spatula; soup ladle; plastic wrap
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)